A Punter’s Perspective #40: Don’t Mention The Wall! (Interview)

Don't Mention The Wall! Rob and Deta Rayner. Image courtesy of Rob and Deta.
Don’t Mention The Wall! Rob and Deta Rayner (Germany). Image courtesy of Rob and Deta Rayner.

A Punter’s Perspective

Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage

#40 Don’t Mention The Wall!

First published on the Timber and Steel blog on 2 January 2013
Second published in Trad and Now magazine, January 2013

Berlin folk pop band The Beez have been frequent visitors to Australia in recent years with their latest tour taking place at the start of 2012. The band is now taking a short break at the start of 2013, however, band members Rob and Deta Rayner will be coming to Australia very shortly with a new show: Don’t Mention The Wall! – songs and stories  from the fall of the Berlin Wall and beyond.

On a variously muggy mid-summer’s Australian morning or frosty Berlin midnight hour, depending on your hemispherical perspective, I spoke with Rob Rayner on the line from Berlin about the show.

Bill Quinn: The Beez left our shores back in April, was it?

Rob Rayner: It was May. It was the epic tour of four months. We never thought we’d get through four months but we did. AND the amazing thing is that we’re still talking to each other!

BQ: I was going to ask how that went after four months on the road!

RR: You probably thought, “Ooooh, they’re having a break; there must be some sort of internal disputes or musical differences”, but there weren’t.

[Acoustic bass player] Jule’s having a baby. She’s the big mama!

BQ: How has the rest of 2012 been going for The Beez

RR: It’s been really good. The funny thing was that we were supposed to release the record [Freischwimmer] when we came back [to Germany] and then there was all this umming and ahh-ing because our record company said, “Well, perhaps we might get to ‘Stage B’ on the steep curve to the top” (us having been at ‘Stage A’ for the last 20 years or so).

“Why don’t we just spend a little bit of money, promotion and maybe we can get you to ‘Stage B’.”

So we talked about that. We talked about various modes and how we were going to do the whole thing.

The practical upshot of that is that now that the CD is officially coming out in April or March 2013. So, it’s taken all up a year and a half which is a lesson for all of us.

BQ: That is a bit of a break considering that you ostensibly launched it in Australia on your tour in 2012.

RR: Yeah, well we did. And it was released on iTunes.

BQ: So what happens now that one of your members is great with child?

RR: Well, we have Sweet Felicia. She’s a wonderful bass player and a really gutsy blues singer who has played with/for, amongst others, Chris Wilson for many years. And she was over in Germany this year with a blues band doing a couple of festivals, and we met her with Chris Wilson.

And she will be filling in for Jule from April to November.

And it’s really good because it’s a completely different feel, a different personality. It’s not a competition thing; it’s two completely different people. And The Beez will be a different band for six months.

We’re really happy, Jule’s really happy because she and Felicia get on really well, and we really love Felicia.

She played in May here at Commusication, which is the show that we have every month, and she just went down a treat. The Germans loved her. She’s just great. Look her up.

BQ: Moving on to the duo project, tell us all about Don’t Mention The Wall!

RR: We [Deta and Rob] were going to have a holiday because of the pregnancy break – ‘maternity leave’ is the official designation for what’s happening. Deta and I thought we’d come out for a little holiday.

And then we thought because I want to come back to Australia in the next ten years and we figured we’d probably spend the twilight of our careers wandering around as a duo or we’d pick up other musicians. We’d love to do it with The Beez, but we can’t reasonably expect Jule and Peter to hang on for that long and spend that much time with us.

So we thought, why don’t we give it a shot and see what happens with just the two of us. And we had this idea about doing a show about the Berlin Wall. Because we were both here – I got to Berlin about six months before the wall came down, and Deta being a native Berliner, it’s something close to our hearts.

So we’re doing a show with songs and stories. And pictures.

We talked about different ways of doing it, and thought of getting a collection of songs together to do with the wall. And we were running with that for a while until about two months ago when I thought, ‘No, this is not working’.

Because we’re coming to Australia with a bunch of songs that don’t really have that much to do with the wall when we’re purporting to do a show that’s all about the wall.

And I thought this is not good, so I’m going to have to write some songs. And really specifically address all the issues.

Now we’re in headless chicken mode.

Because I wrote all these songs and we have to rehearse them and we’re recording them so we can get an album out so we can bring them on tour!

It’s just a total schmozzle!

And we know we’re going to do a multi-media show. Well, a ‘multi-media show’ – what does that mean? Just having a few nice slides from our chequered past.

So we’re at our wits’ end at the moment.

BQ: I can see that concept working well in a festival setting. Do you think it will go as well in smaller venues?

RR: Yeah, probably pretty well. Because they’re first-hand stories; we’re not making a big thing of it. There’ll be a couple of dramatic little bits there, but it’s mainly anecdotal, and an intimate look into a historical event. Because we were both there.

But not wanting to make a big thing of it because it’s a very personal thing. There’s a little bit of historical background, but it’s just really personal stories, anecdotes and photos and songs. And there’s really funny things in there, and probably some pretty moving ones as well.

I think it’s going to be good and with the smaller gigs we’ll be able to do the slideshow as well, and with the festival gigs, we’ll just be doing the songs and a few stories.

BQ: Is it something that you’d see yourselves taking back to Berlin? Would you play it back to…

RR: No. [Laughs loudly.] Not at all!

No one would be remotely interested in it. This is not something you could do in Germany. On the other hand, the songs speak for themselves and as they’re all in English and there are a lot of good pop songs and don’t all deal with the Berlin wall. Not like:

Oh, I got to Berlin and I saw the wall
And I was very impressed
Oh, the wall; oh, the wall

No, we do some different things about the rise of racism, a song about German white trash – which is a fun little song.

There’s a song in three and a half minutes about how the wall was built, because there was a famous quote from the leader of the SED, the ruling party in East Germany at the time. He said – and this was three months before the wall was built – “Nobody has the intentions of building a wall here to divide East and West Germany”.

And the wall was up three months later. The song’s called, “No One Has Intentions Of Building A Wall”.

And there’s a song about a friend of ours who escaped from East Germany, got to West Germany, and was actually kidnapped by a Stasi spy and taken back into the east.

So there’s lots of dramatic and amusing stuff. It’s a real roller-coaster ride.

BQ: And there’ll be an album too. Gott-willing!

RR: There will! We’re just in the process of doing it – a very spontaneous thing. Almost all original songs and a couple of rather surprising cover songs. One from Deep Purple, if you can imagine that. And I can tell you it’s not ‘Smoke on the Water’!

BQ: I’m so glad to hear it!

RR: I bet you are! I’m glad to hear it as well.

BQ: We shall wait with bait on our breaths for your arrival!

Heroes, Don’t Mention The Wall. Filmed live at The Artists’ Shed, Queanbeyan, New South Wales (Australia), 2013.

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